In a division desperate for new blood, top prospects Nikita Krylov and Misha Cirkunov face off at UFC 206 in Toronto on Saturday night. It is a high-stakes light heavyweight match-up that could determine the division’s next star.
Considering the UFC‘s lack of depth in the 205-pound division, it’s a bit odd that they’re matching two of their best prospects in Krylov with Cirkunov. We certainly can’t complain though.
UFC 206 has a lot of big stars, but could Nikita Krylov steal the show?
Krylov has quietly become one of the most exciting and dangerous fighters in the UFC. This parallels to the start of his career when he arguably looked like one of the worst fighter’s on the roster.
The 24-year-old signed with the UFC in 2013 at just 21 years of age. He was a blue chip prospect who turned pro in 2012 but had amassed 17 pro fights going 15-2. All 15 wins by first round finish. Krylov fought two, sometimes three times a week during the span between turning pro and signing with the UFC.
Unfortunately being a pro for less than a year and fighting in the UFC doesn’t often lead to great results. Krylov debuted as a heavyweight, and looked disastrously unprepared against Soa Paleli.
Although he showcased decent ground skills in the fight, he spent the majority of the contest on his back and taking big shots from his Australian nemesis. Paleli eventually finished Krylov in the third round of a really poor fight in which both guys gassed in.
He was able to rebound with a 25-second knockout of Walt Harris, but there was still a lot of question marks surrounding him. He only weighed in for the fight against Harris at 218 pounds which is considerably light for a heavyweight fight. After the victory he made the decision to drop down to 205-pounds.
After Thiago Silva pulled out of a fight against Ovince Saint Preux in 2014, Krylov stepped in on short notice. He lost in the first round due to a very odd Von Flute choke that left him unconscious. With the 1-2 start, Krylov was more than certainly on the cusp of being released.
He was able to rebound against Cody Donovan in his next fight, finishing him in the first round, but it still wasn’t a great showing. He put himself in a lot of bad situations throughout the fight but showed great resilience reversing Donovan on the ground and finishing the fight in the closing seconds.
Krylov won his next two fights by first round submission, but his most impressive victory came earlier this year. That’s when he submitted Francimar Barroso becoming the first to ever tap out the black belt.
The Barroso fight really showed the growth in Krylov who displayed incredible discipline throughout the fight. Barroso was striking with reckless abandonment in the first round and Krylov stayed calm and didn’t engage foolishly.
That’s pretty impressive to see from a guy who had only been fighting for three years at that point.
But what’s far more impressive was the second round in which Kylov not only reversed the Brazilian black belt on the ground, but jumped in his guard. Barroso has an excellent guard in which he is very active with submission attacks.
Krylov put himself in a bit of danger but eventually scrambled and took his back choking him out. Even more impressive he did it with just one hook locked in. The willingness to go in there and beat Barroso at his own game shows how much confidence Kyrlov has.
And just when you thought he couldn’t top the Barroso performance, he went out and topped it against Ed Herman. He knocked him out in the second round with his trademarked head kick.
Often times we see young fighters put on that marquee performance where you take a step back and say, ‘wow this guy is the real deal.’ Think of Khabib Nurmagomedov completely shutting down Rafael dos Anjos in 2014, Demetrious Johnson silencing the doubters in an unbelievable performance against John Moraga in 2013, or even Rory MacDonald against Nate Diaz back in 2011.
If Krylov eventually becomes that big star fighter, we might look back at that Ed Herman fight and say that was the start. Sure he had some great fights and finishes, but in the Herman fight he just exuberated confidence. It was a really impressive performance against a tough veteran.
On Saturday night, we’re going to get to see if Krylov can take it to the next level. He’ll be facing a really tough young light heavyweight in Cirkunov.
The Canadian is an excellent fighter who has finished all three of his opponents in his UFC career. He entered the UFC with a lot of hype, and thus far has lived up to expectations.
If you look at the 205-pound division, it’s a real dead stable of talent. It’s safe to say it’s a four-fighter division between Daniel Cormier, Jon Jones, Anthony Johnson, and Alexander Gustafsson. Outside of Krylov and Cirkunov, the division doesn’t really feature many prospects. You could honestly say it’s full of mediocre talent.
This is why this fight between Krylov and Cirkunov is the perfect opportunity. A win for either of these guys could set up a top-five match-up next year, and if that comes to fruition, boy what a long way Nikita Krylov has come since his debut against Paleli.